At the end of August my company hosted a retreat at KenMont KenWood (did you notice that put together, the words form an interesting mirrored shape?). It was a camp loaded with activities, and I had a swell time, apart from completely flunking at waterskiing :( Upon coming home to my apartment, however, I inexplicably began to smell cigarette smoke everywhere...
It was a very weird, nauseating version of the smell of cigarettes. Like if cigarette smoke was mixed with stale air and circulated through vents in an airplane cabin, then you would get the smell that I was experiencing. You would also probably die shortly after.
I told Toby, my roommate, and his immediate diagnosis was that I was having a stroke. Thanks Toby :)
Upon consulting Google, I discovered that I had been experiencing a rather common condition called Phantosmia (other names include phantom smell and olfactory hallucinations). It's a condition where you start smelling unpleasant odors all the time, even if there's nothing there. Afflicted people commonly smell burning odors, such as cigarette smoke and overcooked popcorn. So it seems like I'm in the 99% when it come to olfactory hallucinators. I figure that I got off easy with my phantom smell, because I read about people that end up smelling sewage waste instead.
There are a wide range of possible causes for Phantosmia. Yes Toby, one of them is that your nervous system and brain aren't talking to each other properly, also known as a stroke.
A more likely source of my olfactory hallucinations is a sinus infection. Apparently sinus infections can occur as a result of inhaling too many foreign fluids and flooding your system with bacteria. At KenWood, I fell into the lake many times while attempting to waterski and ended up inhaling many lungfuls of lake water that was probably teeming with bacteria. Doesn't seem like a stretch to believe that one or more of those lungfuls might have included a free ticket to a sinus infection.
Another possible cause for phantom smells is a migraine. Could I have been experiencing a post-company retreat migraine due to all the physically and mentally strenuous activities that I was engaging in? Who knows, man.
Regardless of the source of my olfactory hallucinations (I'm trying to balance out my usage of the aliases for the condition), they're like a permanent part of me now. Although I'm pretty sure that whatever sickness I had that started the o-hallucinations has passed, I've found that the o-hallucinations themselves still creep up on me at random times. This usually happens during high mental stress activities, such as sitting in front of a screen monitor for extended periods of time, which I do for about 10-15 hours every day.
You know when you learn a new word, and then, almost magically, you start to notice the word everywhere? Well I'm thinking that's what's happened with my sense of smell. Now that my brain has discovered the concept of faking the smell of cigarettes, it's stuck with it. When I'm mentally stressed, it blasts me with a little fake cigarette odor to remind me to chill out a little.
And what's even crazier is that I'm on the fence about how I feel about that. I kinda like it and hate it at the same time. When it happens after several hours of playing Halo I can stop and remind myself to at least look out the window and appreciate that life exists outside of my apartment. It's like a little sensory friend that wants to help me stay grounded in reality. Hopefully I didn't sound too much like a hippie on acid there.